Nate McMillan sends strong message on embattled Atlanta Hawks star

Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

For an Atlanta Hawks team that has far too often snatched defeat from the hands of victory, getting a 113-111 win over the Indiana Pacers has to bring some level of relief. Yes, they fell victim to many of the same foibles squandering another lead, falling victim to a big third quarter by their opponent, and some questionable decision-making down the stretch.

But, sometimes, it is better to be lucky than good and the Hawks were almost certainly the former on this night. Were it not for John Collins’ game-winning tip-in leaving 0.7 seconds on the clock, all of those things would play a bigger factor.

“We had perseverance,” said teammate Onyeka Okongwu. “We know we needed this one bad. We had a lot of slippage against Milwaukee so we knew this was a must-win for us.”

Were it not for Collins, Okongwu’s big night and that perseverance would have been wasted.

Atlanta Hawks send strong message on embattled big man John Collins

The Hawks, up two points with 21.5 seconds to go in the game, committed a foul as Okongwu got a piece of Pacers guard Buddy Hield sending him to the free-throw line. Hield knocked down both attempts and the Hawks had one more chance to put the game away and avoid overtime, though they are 3-1 in extended contests this season.

Star guard Trae Young – who tied with Pacers guard Bennedict Mathurin for a game-high 26 points – got the ball and made his way upcourt.

He had nine points in the quarter already with six coming by way of the long ball. This time, however, Young pulled up only to have his three miss. The Hawks were still fortunate with the ball finding Dejounte Murray.

That is almost as good of a scenario as they could draw up given the circumstances.

Murray – who scored an inefficient 18 points but added eight rebounds, six assists, and a steal – also missed his 15-foot jumper. But, once again, the Hawks were the beneficiaries of their own hard work as Collins gathered the ball in for the clencher. It was both fortunate and a testament to playing until the clock reads all zeros.

It was also a moment that Nate McMillan did not take lightly.

“John didn’t drop his head,” McMillan said of Collins who played just under four minutes in the final frame. “We put him back in late to try to get a sub for [Bogdan Bogdanovic] and kind of go offense-defense. Because we needed help on the boards for Onyeka. And he ended up finishing the game and ended up having really the biggest play of the game tonight.”

Collins did not have a great night statistically finishing with seven points including that tip-in on just 2-of-9 shooting to go with his eight rebounds, one block, and one steal. He was the only starter to finish with a negative plus-minus (minus-2).

He entered the evening averaging 18.2 points and 9.8 boards over his last five games, though his production is just part of the story.

The trade chatter around Collins has heated up with the Hawks’ front office shakeup fueling speculation that a deal could come through as soon as things settle down on that front. But nothing is imminent leaving Collins in a familiar limbo.

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While he has said that he tries to tune out the trade chatter, he has acknowledged that the noise of all that is happening around the organization makes that difficult. His teammates have echoed similar thoughts on the current state of the franchise as a whole though, to a man, they say they are just focused on the next game which is always a little easier coming off a win.